Poor rating of Nigerian universities
The threat by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to embark on strike for the umpteenth time, amidst the marginal position of Nigerian universities in the global university ranking, has once again called for deep reflection about the state of the institutions. Such a reflection has become necessary given the quest for foreign education by Nigerian secondary leavers and post graduate aspirants, and also given a recent official statement of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) decrying the research deficit in indigenous universities.
In the last 10 years, the tertiary education sector has been a looming tragedy that necessitated the need for a declaration of emergency on education. However, the attendant laxity and lack of urgency seemed to have dragged it into a potentially irreparable state as the ubiquitous malady that has afflicted the political class has also found a place in tertiary institutions of learning. The university, being a typical citadel of learning and culture, is a veritable exemplar of the paralysis that is afflicting its entire community of academics, administrators and students.
Reports indicate that the university system is being run aground by administrators who lack both the reason and capacity to manage the 21st century university system. Vice chancellors have sometimes become crude politicians of the most ignoble stock, sacrificing merit and excellence on the altar of ethnic bigotry and religious parochialism. The recruitment process and succession management plans have succumbed to the pestilence of systemic contagion, so much so that all manner of certificated or lettered persons, with little or no interest for the high culture, elevated thinking and refinement that university education bestows, have muscled their way to the pinnacle of university administration.
The level of all-comers’ intrusion is such that professional and technical associations have in some cases become the regulators of university curriculum, rather than of practice. Oftentimes, it is so ridiculous that these associations pontificate on matters of appointments and promotions of academic staff to the relegation of University Senate provisions. This is an indictment on the governance system of the university and the National University Commission (NUC). The teachers union (ASUU) that should be at the forefront of problem-solving has become a consistently weeping child, and often indecisive about what it wants for the university system and its members. It pretentiously fails to make frontal attack against aberrations relating to manpower, and the intrusion of technical associations in the running of the affairs of academics.
For administrators with brilliant and workable ideas, the universities have proven to be too expensive to run. Not enough money is provided for education by the Federal Government, let alone tertiary education. This is further exacerbated by the drastic fall of the naira value. In spite of this, the NUC is licensing more universities as if it is dishing out local government permits for erection of stalls and roadside counters. There is politics of emoluments rather than the value to be brought into the system.
Besides, there are not enough teachers. Commitment to teaching and research is low or absent. Excellent and dedicated lecturers are not easy to come by owing to poor remuneration and traumatising working condition characterised by poor and inadequate facilities and frequent industrial actions that yield no results. For the same reason, bright and young lecturers and administrators are leaving and going abroad. Many universities are not recruiting, even as migrating teachers are not being replaced. Some universities are not paying salaries.
Students, on their part, are confused about the need and value of tertiary education. Whilst for some schools is scam, others find their placement there as a rite of passage where curricula have no bearing with their expectations. In the absence of institutionalised platforms for adequate skills and talents grooming, students who cannot spell “university” are dubiously being pushed into a system from which nothing may be gained, even though they pass examinations.
Indeed no system encumbered by this quantum of anomalies can ever be world class. That these factors have turned Nigerian universities into production mills for mediocrities as well as a caricature of genuine knowledge production institutions is a painful truism that needs be erased. This was not the case three or four decades ago. How can universities return to their glorious past? How can they be made to be relevant to 21st century Nigeria?
The system needs original thinkers rather than imitators or lackeys of western academes; not routine administrators, who occupy positions, adorn titles and suffixes of grandiloquence without corresponding outputs to their ill-coveted laurels. First, there is need for enlightenment about the meaning of the university and what it offers. Secondly, the needs assessment for graduate employees should be the condition for university admissions nationwide. Furthermore, at the level of administration and academic management, strong professional and ethical standard devoid of religious and ethnic colouration should be instituted. Adequate remuneration for academic staff should be set in place to reward excellence and ensure quality delivery.
The university is a deliberate creation by the practical but critical rationalism of a hegemonic coalition of genuine problem solvers; which is why there is need for innovation on its part. Apart from winning grants and patents that must address specific needs of the society, concerted efforts should be made to look inwards for resources. Nigeria’s numerous problems should challenge the intellects of our researchers and thinkers to seek out solutions. Moreover, Nigerian universities should embark on purposeful self-purging to ensure that only persons of merit with strong professional and ethical character are recruited.
Government and stakeholders must understand the import and value of tertiary education, especially university education, which is a specialised manpower development system. It is neither a social rite of passage for every teenager, nor a ‘‘dividend of democracy.’’ It is a scanner and sieve out of which the finest minds emerge to push back the frontiers of knowledge that will positively transform the individual and civilise the society.
Conversely, there seems to be a deliberate and systematic attempt in this country to undermine tertiary education, either out of sheer ignorance on the part of the state managers or from a conscious plan to perpetuate self-interest over the good of the university. Well-meaning Nigerians who believe in the greatness and potential of this country must not allow this to happen.